China Building Hypersonic Jet to Ferry Passengers Around Globe and to Space

Engineers involved in China's ambitious space program are building a hypersonic plane that could be ferrying more than 10,000 passengers to space every year by the middle of the century, according to a new report out of the country this week.

Hong Kong's South China Morning Post says the jet, which shares some design elements with the now retired supersonic commercial airliner Concorde, will measure 148 feet in length—significantly larger than a Boeing 737.

Designs published in the bimonthly Chinese journal Physics of Gases last week show sleek delta wings with notable winglets. Two engines mounted atop the fuselage will help propel the aircraft to speeds of Mach 6—or six times the speed of sound—the newspaper reported on Wednesday.

China Developing New Hypersonic Jet
Illustrations featured in the bimonthly Chinese journal "Physics of Gases" show designs for China's hypersonic jet, which is under development and could be operational before the end of the decade. Beijing Institute of Technology/Sohu

Researchers with the Beijing Institute of Technology and the Institute of Spacecraft System Engineering are taking part in the design and modeling of the new hypersonic jet. Among them is Liu Rui, one of the key scientists involved in China's Mars and moon missions.

Liu helped engineer spacecraft that could withstand atmospheric travel at "hypervelocity," The Post said. Similar aerodynamic modeling will be used in the construction of the country's hypersonic plane, which will need to perform at high altitudes and at high speeds, which create "spikes of heat and pressure" on certain sections of the aircraft, the report noted.

According to the paper, China plans to complete and verify all components necessary for hypersonic flight by the middle of the decade. This will include next-generation "air-breathing" engines that will take in oxygen and push the plane to five or six times the speed of sound.

The new propellant technology could operate at one-hundredth of the cost of traditional rockets, its report said.

China Developing New Hypersonic Jet
Illustrations featured in the bimonthly Chinese journal "Physics of Gases" show designs for China's hypersonic jet, which is under development and could be operational before the end of the decade. Beijing Institute of Technology/Sohu

By 2035, China plans to have a fleet of hypersonic jets that can ferry up to 10 passengers to anywhere on Earth within an hour, The Post said. A decade after that, the aircraft could be carrying 100 passengers per flight as well as delivering 10,000 tons of cargo and 10,000 people to space—or moon—stations every year.

China is among a few world powers, along with Russia and the United States, currently investing large sums into the research and development of dual-use hypersonic equipment, including missiles and aircraft.

The newspaper says Chinese hypersonic technology is so far reserved for use in the military.

China also joins Russia and the U.S. in having developed its own hypersonic missiles. The PLA's DF-17 ballistic missile and the DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle were revealed at China's 70th anniversary National Day parade two years ago.